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As fresh herbs became more widely accepted nationwide by supermarket buyers and more importantly the consumer, the business I had begun with just three people had grown tremendously. We had established the standard in agricultural methods, logistics with a perishable product, and fresh herb centers in produce sections across the country.
With the need to set up contract buying with other herb growers, I now had to distill all of the experience and capability I had gained, into a set of instructional guidelines; not only to educate, but to receive the level of quality and reliability we needed. Along with the specification details I had to communicate, most importantly I needed to learn how to communicate trust.
Our success was confirmed as we were receiving the product just as we needed it, but also, I was asked to help others improve the quality of their dehydrated herb production as well. In helping these growers increase the quality of what they were doing, I gradually became enamored with the dehydrated herb process. Just as dried fruit is a concentrated food source, so high quality dehydrated herbs could be as well. So, I posed to our sales and marketing team the concept of “fresh-dehydrated” culinary herbs to add to the fresh herb centers in market produce sections. We started with just a few and discovered that they were eagerly accepted by the consumer. As fate would have it, the growers I worked with asked for help and offered a partnership. They knew I was fully involved with the fresh herb business, but asked that I give them enough of my time to fix some of the problems they were having as well as expand their market. Then the crazy idea hit me; this could be fun!
The fresh herb business had grown and we had a wonderful team. Although there were many details and always something to be done, I realized that this would be a good time for me to move on. I thrived on challenge and creating something from just an idea. I wanted to create a high quality, dehydrated culinary herb line to sell to all the major spice companies. I would remain available as needed for the fresh herbs, but wanted to throw myself into this new endeavor. In order to win my partner over to the idea, I promised to increase the packaged dehydrated herb line as well.
These wonderful, power-packed herbs and botanicals I had been working with for years, afforded so much flavor, but also traditionally gave tremendous aid to physical well-being. What began to unfold working with the dried herb growers was, that if we could prepare the herbs in the field pre-harvest, cut them at an optimal time, transport the herbs quickly and efficiently and dehydrate them optimally, the results were stunning. With the right amount of drying time and temperature, along with proper air movement, we could capture the maximum essential oils along with optimal color and flavor on a large scale of production.
I was regularly driving out to the California desert and tending to the details of production. In diving deep into all facets of this business, much was uncovered. There were quality issues with the product in inventory and we would have to find a home for all of that to increase our cash flow. We had to establish new procedures to insure a superior standard of quality and reliability for the finished product. We needed to rein in costs, create budgets and cash flows… ahh, I had forgotten what it was like to start a new business!
Soon enough, we reached a level of quality that was unparalleled in the culinary herb industry. We created a unique niche not found anywhere in the general market. The color, flavor, consistency and packaging developed to preserve these qualities was second to none. And particularly, the flavor we captured was better than any other product on the market. I was packaging over 100 samples a day and traveling to local spice companies, as well as shipping nationwide— and attending trade shows. The effort was relentless for months.
I had to learn the language of the industry and figure out how our product could fit in with what the market utilized up to that point. Don’t forget, the spice industry was one of the oldest businesses known throughout history! Slowly I had buyers, but I was still not able to take anything for myself, was living off savings and was pretty stressed out. So, I packed up the family into a small “Dolphin” RV, and headed on vacation to Northern California.
The dolphin was small for four people and my mother-in-law (quite the outdoor person that she was). We journeyed north through Kings Canyon, the Sequoia forest and into the Yosemite Valley. Traveling from the south, you enter a dark tunnel carved into the mountainside and pass through to another world created by ancient glaciers. Stunning! I could go on and on… But the significance for the story is that as we stood in the magnificence of this Temple crafted by Nature and Time, my massive cell phone rang (early cell phones were the size of a shoebox)! How we had reception, I can’t fathom. All I remember is the voice on the other end was that of a buyer I had spent the better part of a year trying to convince that our product was one he definitely needed. He represented one of the major spice companies and had traveled the world more than most, if not all other human beings.
When I mentioned I was in Yosemite Valley, there was a long pause and he said… “You are standing in my favorite spot on earth!” He also told me there was an opportunity to supply his company; Wow! But there was a lot of work ahead to make that happen. I was ready!
-Jerry Tenenberg, Founder of High Quality Organics Express